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Camp Internet's Global Gardening Studies are open to all Camp Expedition Teams. RAIN's Youth Technology Corps members are Expedition Team Leaders for Communities taking part.

Planting by the Phases of the Moon

The Camp Internet Garden begins seeds and puts in new plants by during the Full Moon.

When the moon wanes and is near to the New Moon we begin much weeding.

Many people, long before we began the Camp Internet Garden Project, have done their gardening based on moon phases.

Pliny the Elder did it, and so did Benjamin Franklin.

I imagine your grandmother and great grandmother did as well! They all planted gardens by the phases of the Moon, using a method practiced in rural communities for thousands years. It was so well established in the first century AD that it became part of the “natural history” that Pliny wrote about in his series of the same name. A method proven successful over that length of time deserves more than a label of folklore. It warrants a trial in our gardens too.

Superior gardens are what gardeners want for their efforts, and planting by the phases of the Moon makes this possible. Seeds germinate faster. Plants are hardier and more disease-resistant. They blossom sooner and bear more fruit. Just as importantly, they better resist the stress of harsh weather, drought and insect infestation. Naturally, good gardening techniques must still be followed. Gardens need be watered, pruned, mulched, hoed, weeded and fertilized. Ugly potato beetles must be plucked off and young plants protected from spring storms. Paying attention to the Moon phases may be the easiest part of our gardening experience but the one with the biggest rewards.

What are the Moon’s Phases?

If we’re to plant by the phases of the Moon, we first need to identify them correctly. The most obvious way (in the Northern Hemisphere) is to look at the night sky and remember the word “D-O-C.” As the Moon cycles around the Earth and the Earth around the Sun, its position relative to the other bodies changes. The four resulting Moon phases are called “quarters.” The Moon is “new” when it comes directly between the Earth and the Sun and can’t reflect much of the Sun’s light. The first quarter Moon appears as a small crescent with the bulge facing to the right, as it does in the capital letter “D”.

At second quarter, the Moon appears half full and resembles the letter “D”. The light of the Moon increases each night until it reaches the Full Moon stage and hangs in the night sky like a great big “O.” When the Moon decreases from Full Moon back to New Moon phase, the bulge moves to the left side, like a “C”. When it reaches the fourth quarter stage, the Moon looks half full again. Other sources for Moon phase information are the weather page of your local newspaper and almanacs.

Cycles of the Sun, Moon and Earth

When our rural ancestors planted by the phases of the Moon, they were not acting out of ignorance or superstition. They were making a deliberate attempt to align their actions with the natural cycles of the Earth. We do this today with solar cycles. The Sun’s movement in relationship to Earth establishes the primary natural cycle we’re most familiar with. The first thing gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere learn is to plant tender crops after the last average frost date. This date depends on the annual cycle of the Sun north and south of the equator.
The Waxing and Waning Moon

Although the Sun’s cycle is primary, considering the phases of the Moon can further refine planting dates. The goal is to plant in harmony with these phases so crops will thrive. Different types of crops are planted at varying times because of their affinity with a certain phase. Crops that set produce above the ground are connected to the Moon’s increase in size from New Moon to Full Moon (the waxing period) because the Moon is growing “up.” Crops with the edible part growing below the ground are related to the phase between the Full Moon and New Moon, when the circle of light diminishes or grows “down” (the waning period).

The Quarters of the Moon

There is a further refinement of this method that considers the quarters of the Moon as well. Experienced Moon phase gardeners have found each quarter phase is connected with the following kinds of plants and activities.

First quarter Moon: Plants that produce their seeds on the outside, such as lettuce, broccoli, annual flowers and herbs have an affinity with this quarter of the Moon. Sow and transplant them during this phase.

Second quarter Moon: Plants that set seeds inside a pod or skin do best when planted in this quarter. These are primarily vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.

Third quarter Moon: All vegetable root crops such as potatoes, onions, radishes and beets do best planted in this phase. Perennial flowers, flower bulbs, shrubs and trees also prefer the third quarter.

Fourth quarter Moon: This phase is reserved for garden clean up. There’s a gardening rumor that if you pull weeds during the fourth quarter, they won’t grow back!

As you plan your school garden this year, record when you start your seeds and put in your plants. Try to follow some of the ideas behind lunar gardening and lets see next spring what the results are.